Stop! The Play
Sharnbrook Mill Theatre
24th May 2023
As anyone who sees a lot of theatre will tell you, there’s an awful lot that can go wrong with a live performance, both onstage and behind the scenes. It’s a premise full of potential for any writer, and one that has been explored both in classics like ‘Noises Off’ and more recent hits like ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Playwright David Spicer gives us his own spin in ‘Stop! The Play’, which introduces us to a group of six actors, who are busy rehearsing a new production which opens in a matter of days. Well-intentioned but out-of-his-depth director Evelyn (Tom Carter) tries to keep the rehearsal process on track, but grows ever more exasperated at daily rewrites and plot changes from the play’s unseen writer, actors who struggle to remember their lines and complain about their parts being cut down or changed beyond recognition, and production issues such as last-minute radical set requirements and an escaped monkey.
‘Stop! The Play’ tries hard, and while it does raise a few laughs, it does suffer with comparisons to the wittier dialogue of ‘Noises Off’ and the mightier physical comedy of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. With somewhat weaker material than its formidable inspirations, ‘Stop The Play can’t help coming send best, no matter how hard it tries. Part of the problem is that behind the farce, you should be able to see the good play that’s trying to be made (thus making the “going wrong” elements work). A bad play going wrong is far less satisfying, as is the journey getting there, especially when the bulk of the first act is repeated scenes of “there’s been another rewrite” and the frustrated actors having to start over yet again.
It also doesn’t feel like it gains the required momentum in the way that similarly-themed plays do, with act two normally descending into utter chaos, whereas here the mishaps and mistakes don’t really get out of second gear. None of this is the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre company’s fault, as director Nicola Macdonald delivers the play as intended and the cast do a fantastic job with their performances. Modestly but effectively-staged, Macdonald focuses our attention on her cast, who sell the material really well. It’s very much a case of average material delivered brilliantly rather than the other way around, and the cast & crew come out of the production far better than Spicer does (although he does get credit for some witty stage directions – “he radiated danger like a dangerous radiator” and “like a dead swan, he was unflappable” being particular standouts).
The cast of seven all do themselves proud. Sharnbrook Mill Theatre regular David Mander is great as always and has some really great moments as Hugh, really delivering the comedy through increasing frustration. Emma Legg (Linda) and Natalie Macphail (Gemma) are also fantastic as the play’s female leads and bounce of each other really well. Tom Carter holds things together well as inept director Evelyn, and Ethan Leith deserves some props for really throwing himself into the role of Kriston and playing it brilliantly over-the-top.
It’s another entertaining and competent production from the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre who always throw their heart and soul into their shows. It’s a shame this time the material isn’t as strong as the obvious enthusiasm behind it, but everyone involved can be proud of what they’ve achieved.
‘Stop! The Play’ runs at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre until Saturday 27th May 2023.
Performance runtime 2 hours including interval